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Youngkin admin nixes transgender protections in public schools, focuses on 'parental rights'

A 30-day public comment period regarding these new policies opens on Sept. 26, after which the proposed changes will go into effect.

RICHMOND, Va. — Editor's note: The video above is from a previous recent related story.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin's administration is looking to change public school policies protecting transgender students with ones focused on "parental rights," according to a document released Friday.

Once enacted, the Virginia Department of Education's (VDOE) 2022 "model policies" — addressing how transgender students are treated in public schools — will nix the policies enacted in 2021. Some of the guidelines include:

  • School divisions have to disclose sensitive student information to the student, the student’s parents and school personnel with "a legitimate educational interest or when required by law." 
  • School divisions can only refer to each student using the name in the student's official record or an associated nickname. The same goes for pronouns. 
  • Students will need parents' permission in writing if they want to be referred to under a different name or pronouns than what's in a student’s official record.
  • School divisions can only change a student's legal name or sex if a parent or eligible student submits a legal document or court order backing up the change.
  • Students can only use bathrooms that correspond to their sex.

The administration also argued the use of preferred pronouns is built on "the ideological belief that gender is a matter of personal choice or subjective experience, not sex," adding, "Many Virginians reject this belief."

"The 2021 Model Policies promoted a specific viewpoint aimed at achieving cultural and social transformation in schools," the 2022 document reads. "The 2021 Model Policies also disregarded the rights of parents and ignored other legal and constitutional principles that significantly impact how schools educate students, including transgender students."

Under a Virginia law signed by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam in 2020, VDOE has to develop model policies for transgender students, which school divisions can either adopt consistent with or more comprehensive than the model.

In the 2021 policies, school divisions were encouraged to minimize the stigmatization of transgender students under the idea all children have a right to learn without being discriminated against and harassed.

'We are appalled': Democrats, civil rights groups slam Youngkin's proposal

Macaulay Porter, a spokesperson for Youngkin, said the new policies are part of the governor's commitment to "preserving parental rights and upholding the dignity and respect of all public school students."

"It is not under a school’s or the government's purview to impose a set of particular ideological beliefs on all students," Porter wrote. "Key decisions rest, first and foremost, with the parents. The previous policies implemented under the Northam Administration did not uphold constitutional principles and parental rights, and will be replaced.”

Many Democrats and civil rights groups in Virginia pushed back on Youngkin's proposal, though.

"We are appalled by the Youngkin administration's overhaul of key protections for transgender students in public schools," ACLU of Virginia wrote on Twitter. "LGBTQ+ students already experience much higher self-harm & suicide rates because of the discrimination they face. This will only make matters worse."

Equality Virginia said LGBTQ+ students in Virginia deserve the safety to thrive at school.

"By outing LGBTQ+ students who have not had conversations with their parent, Youngkin and his Dept. of Ed are willing to subject LGBTQ+ students to abuse," the group wrote in a tweet.

In a tweet Monday morning, the Democratic Party of Virginia described the proposal as "cruel."

"Gov. Youngkin is attacking some of the most vulnerable and young members of the LGBTQ community to score political points with the far-right," the party wrote. "These are students who already struggle with higher rates of harassment and Gov. Youngkin is targeting them."

Virginia Del. Danica Roem, the first transgender woman elected to the General Assembly, said the proposal violates the Virginia Human Rights Act and suggested legal action.

"You can’t use executive action to overturn § 2.2-3900, the Virginia Human Rights Act," Roem wrote. "If you want a debate, then we’ll see you at a microphone. If you want to break the law, then we’ll see you in court."

A 30-day public comment period regarding this proposal opens on Sept. 26, after which the proposed changes will go into effect.

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